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What constitutes a blogger “bully”?

Posted Jul 09 2010 5:03pm

There are events around the autism blog-o-sphere that are troubling as of late. Events which bring up the question of bullying in a very real way.

First some background:

Andrew Wakefield is on a book tour. He has spoken at a park in Chicago and to small groups in New York, Phoenix and London. Events surrounding these engagements have very strange, if you ask me. And it is getting stranger.

The Chicago event was, well, a bit of damp squib , to quote Kev. Not a big event, even though it was timed to coincide with a large autism parent convention. Many of the attendees were actually skeptics who showed up as a bit of a silent protest .

The event in London was originally billed as “Dr. Andrew Wakefield is at a secret location in London with a select group of ticket holders for a book signing and Q&A session.” At one point it was going to simultaneously shown as a pay-per-view on the internet (something like $70, if I recall correctly), but ended up being free. The event location was kept secret at first and is reported to have been moved with vague comments of “threats”.

Frankly, I take any possibility of threats seriously and I worried that this might be serious. While I disagree with much of what Mr. Wakefield has to say, I would strongly condemn any threats to his talks.

When I heard that there was controversy about Mr. Wakefield’s Phoenix appearance, I took it seriously and wanted details.

The Phoenix event was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Prior to the event, one skeptical blogger emailed the Ritz-Carlton . She states that she emailed the Ritz-Carlton twice. Below is her communication:

Andrew Wakefield June 26 at The Ritz in Phoenix

Dear Sir / Madam,

I’m writing to express my extreme disappointment that such a well thought of hotel as the Ritz is playing host to this event on Saturday.

Disappointingly, The Autism Society of Greater Phoenix has chosen your venue to promote unsupported quack therapies and to support Andrew Wakefield, a man whose scaremongering has led to disastrous falls in vaccination levels among children. Levels have fallen so far that measles – a potentially fatal or crippling disease, even in countries with good levels of health care such as the UK - is now reported as once again being endemic here. Vaccination is arguably the greatest medical invention or discovery of our age, and has without doubt saved more lives worldwide than any other medical procedure. Hosting a book signing by Mr Wakefield would only indicate support for his unethical methods (including taking blood from children at a birthday party, and carrying out colonoscopies on vunerable autistic children for non-medically indicated reasons)

Many anti-vaccine activists want to return us to an age of deaths from preventable illnesses, claiming, against all evidence that vaccines are harmful, simply in order to promote their own agenda.

Andrew Wakefield is not a brave, maverick doctor, fighting the establishment, as The Autism Society of Greater Phoenix would have it; rather he has recently been struck off the medical register for horrific breaches of ethics involving non-indicated clinical procedures on children and undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Should you allow this event to go ahead, I fear your company’s reputation will be seriously tarnished, and respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision.

Best regards,

Rebecca Fisher

Andrew Wakefield – GMC ruling:
Vaccine preventable diseases – American Academy Of Paediatrics:

The AutismOne newsletter portrayed the blogger’s actions as :

Rebecca Fisher: Pharma Blowhard or Concerned Citizen?

You can’t be a parent in this community without bumping into them. Every article, TV program, blog or radio show brings them out in force. The mention of “autism” or “Dr. Wakefield” brings them scurrying out from under their rocks snapping and snarling and spitting about the wonders of vaccines and their self-anointed roles as concerned citizens in protecting the pubic health.

It’s a scam and we all know it. Most of the bloggers, poseurs, and self-ordained autism experts have ties either directly or indirectly to pharma or mainstream medicine (which is really one and the same thing). Age of Autism has done a remarkable job outing Orac and shedding light on the soft underbelly of the vaccine apologists.

Rebecca Fisher of the UK has been very busy lately. Blogging here under the title “JABS Loonies – Justice, Awareness, Basic Support and Mind Blowing Stupidity,” Rebecca recently left the Internet safety of anonymity to engage in more concrete acts of aggression against our community.

Rebecca’s current mission is attempting to frighten, bully or pressure venues Dr. Wakefield is scheduled to speak at on his current book tour into canceling the event. Hotels are under siege by email, fax, and phone demanding they cancel Dr. Wakefield’s appearance.

For a week before this past Saturday, Rebecca attempted to intimidate the Phoenix Ritz-Carlton site of Dr. Wakefield’s latest talk into capitulation. To their credit the Ritz told her, in essence, to take a hike.

Rebecca, who also blogs as Becky Fisseux, will continue to act in a dangerous and reckless fashion until she is outed and her connections to pharma publically revealed.

Still the attacks will continue until we take legal and other appropriate actions necessary to incur real costs on those who spread lies and misinformation.

Unfortunately, the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix will not comment on the event. Ms. Fisher make a reasonable list of alleged facts that are unsupported within the complaint raised in the AutismOne newsletter. She requests proof that:

[She has] sent any more than two emails to the Ritz Carlton Group

She has] have ever telephoned the Ritz Carlton Group

I have ever sent a fax to the Ritz Carlton Group

I contacted the Ritz Carlton Group on more than one day

I used language that could be construed as “bullying”, “intimidating” or “harrassing” in my two emails (actually just one email, sent to two addresses)

The Ritz Carlton told me to “take a hike” – or in fact contacted me in any way

The AutismOne newsletter references recent events involving the blogger Orac at Respectful Insolence. It doesn’t speak well of AutismOne that they believed the Age of Autism blog piece about Orac. That piece claimed that the surgeon behind Orac had undisclosed financial ties to a pharmaceutical company, leading to a campaign to get him fired from his job. Seriously, people were encouraged in the comments on AoA to contact his employer. It is a pretty low moment for the Age of Autism. (if you are curious, Steven Novella takes apart the claimed conflict in his piece Age of Autism Witch Hunt .)

It would be all too easy to claim that the threats (and real) intimidation level is rising. I don’t know if that is the case. In recent years a blogger was expelled from an AutismOne conference for asking a tough but pertinent question of Terri Poling (mother of Hannah Poling, whose case before the vaccine court was very importantand will be again once the final settlement is reached and announced.) AutismOne is reported to have ejected journalists as well.

It is worth noting that blogger Kathleen Seidel was subpoenaed by vaccine injury lawyer Clifford Shoemaker.

I take threats seriously, as I stated above. I take bullying seriously too. It is worth questioning whether this statement “Rebecca’s current mission is attempting to frighten, bully or pressure venues Dr. Wakefield is scheduled to speak at on his current book tour into canceling the event” is really upheld by the facts. Since the Ritz-Carlton will not comment, I will await some sort of substantiation that what Ms. Fisher has done constitutes “frightening” or “bullying” or “pressure”.

I’ll leave you with the final line from the AutismOne newsletter piece on this:

“Still the attacks will continue until we take legal and other appropriate actions necessary to incur real costs on those who spread lies and misinformation.”

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